If I’ve made it this far, I’ve successfully traversed the Sahara! We enter Sub-Saharan Africa by crossing the Senegal River into St. Louis, West Africa’s first French settlement and from where French colonialists conquered the interior.
The city of St Louis, is located at the mouth of the Senegal River and is an interesting place to visit. We will spend a couple of nights near town camping within the national park ‘Langue de Barbarie’, well known for its fauna rich with various species of birds. Here I’ll have the option of taking a pirogue trip, bird watching, relaxing and swimming, fishing and much more.
Senegal has a very different feel to the west Saharan countries I traveled through. I’ll begin to be exposed to West Africa’s vibrant food and music culture, colorful fashion, and lively markets.
Just like its Northern relatives Mauritania and Morocco, Senegal is a predominantly Muslim country, albeit a more secular one. Senegal is the first country I’ll see with strong animist influences. This part of the trip is also where we’ll start to see bad roads, “‘”interesting“’” local driving styles and a mixture of modern West African cities as well as some fly blown and remote border posts and villages. Welcome to West Africa!
On our Overland route through Senegal, we’ll visit Lake Retba (or Lac Rose as it is known by locals) where I’ll get to float in the pink lake, so colored due to a specific species of Algae. Its salinity content compares to that of the Dead Sea and during the dry season it exceeds it — up to about 40% in some areas!
Interestly enough, Lake Retba differs from the Dead Sea in having living fish. The fish in Lake Retba have evolved to pump out the high salt content. This comes at an evolutionary price to the fish — they are about 4 times smaller than “regular” fish!
In Dakar I’ll have the opportunity to explore, visit the Museum of African Arts, the Goree Island, and visit the African Renaissance Monument — dedicated to Africa’s emergence from colonial hegemony, this statue is taller than the Statue of Liberty!
From here we’ll move on to Dakar, one of the largest transport hubs in West Africa and home to about 2.5 million people as well as a booming music scene. By the way, for those curious about the weather — at this point, it will be in January, right in the peak of Winter for the Northern Hemisphere. Dakar will be pretty chilly, with an average daily temperature of 75 degrees!
From Dakar we move to Tambacounda, a bustling market town at the junction of many trade routes. If I’m lucky, I’ll spend some time in the Niokolo-Koba National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with over 80 mammal species, including elephants, lions, chimpanzees and even a few leopards.
Dependent on the current situation in each country, we again have a choice of two routes from here. Option one takes us through Mali and option two through Guinea and Sierra Leone.